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Chapter 8: The Supporting Cast and Chapter 9: Watching Tapes By Matt Murphy

Posted by flairwhoooooo on November 16, 2009

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By Matt Murphy

It takes more than a group of underwear-clad goofs to make a wrestling event work. From referees to ticket-takers, there are many people working hard to make events run smoothly who don’t get the tail that all professional wrestlers (except you) get.

The referee is the third member of the team inside the ring. A friend of mine, Brandon Schmitt, first inquired about becoming a referee two or three years ago. “It’s pretty simple,” I told him. “Don’t get in the way, don’t botch the finish, and keep the counts consistent. Besides that, most of a referee’s training comes from getting in there and learning from his mistakes.” That’s the best I can describe it. It’s not that it’s easy — far from it — but it’s best-learned through live-match experience. In addition, this makes a referee an almost immediate asset to a company, so he can earn his keep while learning.

We had a referee not too long ago who was a total tool. Not John Cone, who is an outstanding referee and a great guy who makes awesome doughnuts and worked for us before being signed by WWE, but a different guy. In fact, he was the polar opposite of John. Where John is a professional, slender, clean-cut guy, this referee was fat-skinny (you know, skinny except for his beer belly and bulbous ass), sloppy, tucked his shirt into his underwear, and always looked like he had dropped a load in his pants. His droopy pants were symbolic, because he really was the shits in the ring. The worst thing about him was that he was in horrible shape and refused to accept the fact that refereeing required good conditioning.

It’s hard to notice a good referee, but a bad one can break a match. After a controversial finish two years ago, a referee screwed up and handed the WLW title to the losing wrestler. The crowd was confused, as were both wrestlers, so this losing wrestler (I’m not going to name him) did the only thing he could think of: he nailed the referee with a stiff elbow to the jaw.

The referee is like the kicker in football. Sometimes the outcome of the game is on his shoulders. If he nails it, well, he was just doing what he was paid to do. If he shanks it, then all the world’s problems are his fault. I really feel for referees, especially the good ones like John, who work their asses off but don’t get the respect they deserve.

The ring announcer has a simple job. He introduces wrestlers and announces the winners. Sure, he may also need to welcome the crowd and let fans know who is at the autograph table during intermissions, but it’s the easiest job of anybody in a performance role. He needs to look professional and be something of a stiff. He’s not an emcee or a carnival barker, but a ring announcer. He should project his voice with enthusiasm without trying to sound like Michael Buffer, speak clearly and not swallow the microphone. He may have a stopwatch at the ringside table and might occasionally be asked the elapsed time. Sorry to all ring announcers, but I’ve done it and I got it right the first time.

Like the referee, the ring announcer is usually only noticed when he screws up. Here is my biggest pet peeve with announcers: introducing one wrestler with less enthusiasm than another. He’s telling the fans that one wrestler is less important than another instead of letting the crowd decide. I also hate it when an announcer asks the crowd, “What did you think of that match?” This opens the door for a reaction he might not expect. Another one, a big one, is, “Lets hear it for So-and-So!” When I was wrestling, I would get really mad about that. I earned my own reaction and didn’t need a third hand in doing so.

Another thing a ring announcer can do to really screw things up is to slow his count as time is winding down on a time-limit draw. If the babyface is to hit a big move and cover the heel with time expiring before the three-count, the wrestlers are timing the finish based on real-time. I once had to kick out of a finisher because the announcer called out: “Ten…Nine…Eight…Seven…Six…Five……Four……Three……….Two………….” Needless to say, the announcer got an earful about it.

After three paragraphs of announcer-bashing, I will say that the announcer is the first person a crowd sees and most visible throughout the event. It is vital to have a quality ring announcer, and a good one can be the difference between a good or great show.

Managers may be slowly filtered back into wrestling. I hope so. Remember all the managers in WWE in the 1980s? “Captain” Lou Albano, “Classy” Freddie Blassie, “Luscious” Johnny V, Bobby “the Brain” Heenan, Mr. Fuji, Jimmy Hart, and Slick, to name a handful? Now there are almost none, but that’s still more than there were a few years ago. Managing is about finding your gimmick and your niche.

Most babyface managers these days require breasts, because who wants to see some aging wrestler act as a cheerleader? Almost every good manager is a heel. He can manage one wrestler or have an entire stable. On the independent scene, I don’t think it’s necessary for a manager to be seen more than twice. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing, Alan Jackson.

To be a good manager, you’ll likely need to be an exceptional talker. You should treat your role as if you receive a cut of your wrestlers’ paydays, so you will do whatever necessary to get him the winner’s pay. Like a tag team partner, your bodily mannerisms should reflect the way you are feeling when your wrestler is on top or taking a beating.

I always liked Jim Cornette as a manager because he wore a suit, didn’t look like a wrestler, got heat, was incredible on the microphone, and looked like he was coming up with a new strategy when things didn’t go as he planned.

The manager can get physically involved once in a while, but I appreciate teasing it first. Let the manager creep toward the babyface, who is selling on the bottom rope. Let the crowd go nuts, the referee turns around just as the manager turns to the crowd, upset that they foiled his plans. Then fans feel like they can prevent wrongdoing, and when it is teased next time, they’re through the roof. When the manager finally does get physically involved, the wrestler should be careful not to oversell it. Sure, there have been some tough managers, but in the fans’ eyes, he’s still just a manager.

Valets are becoming less common as most Divas end up in the ring. If you aren’t stop-traffic hot or if you don’t have a great gimmick, you might not want to waste your time trying to become a valet.

Security is an important part of the live wrestling event. There’s always “that guy” in some crowd — the lifelong loser who thinks he’ll achieve immortality by whipping a wrestler (or, more often, looking like that was his intention). Sadly, those guys aren’t usually dragged backstage for a good beating any more. The moment a fan touches a wrestler in a disrespectful or aggressive manner, he should be escorted from the building.

Security also needs to keep its eyes open for kids wrestling on the floor or trying to get into the ring between matches, people trying to steal merchandise, and anything else that could be potentially dangerous or costly to the promotion or venue.

I hope I didn’t sound too hard on some of the supporting cast. It takes a lot more than just wrestlers to make a show run smoothly. But, like I said, sometimes the only times you notice some of them are when they screw up.

Chapter 9: Watching Tapes

When you watch wrestling videos, you’re either watching yourself or somebody else, said Captain Obvious. Let’s look at how to get the most out of both.

Before I watched one of my own matches on video, I asked myself, How did I feel about the match afterwards? No matter what, that’s the most important thing. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll end up picking apart your match to a degree that you’ll end up thinking think it sucked, so it’s good to remember the feeling you had right after you worked the match.

I liked to watch each of my matches on video several times. The first time, I watched it for myself, as a fan. I didn’t evaluate anything; I just wanted to see the story of the match and how we told it. The second time, I’d begin picking it apart. I’d look for better ways I could bump, sell, feed, and interact with the crowd. I’d keep an eye out for anything that looked weak and any times where it was obvious that I was calling a spot. The next time around, I would use the pause button a lot. I’d watch the match and, after each thing I did, I would pause the video and try to think of five different ways we could’ve gone from Points A to B. If I had my opponent in a headlock (A) and he ended up with a hammerlock on me (B), I would think of five different ways to get from A to B. Maybe he reversed directly into the hammerlock in the match. Here are five simple, different ways we could have done it:

  1. He whips me into the ropes. I hit a tackle. He drops down and catches me coming off the ropes with an armdrag, keeping control of my arm. We work up to our feet and he goes into the hammerlock.
  2. He works for a top-wristlock. I reverse into a hammerlock and he reverses it.
  3. I give him a headlock takeover. He gives me a headscissors, I kick out, and I feed into the hammerlock.
  4. He reverses the headlock and switches over into the hammerlock.
  5. He schoolboy rolls me out of the headlock. I charge him and he gives me a dropkick. He covers me for a one-count and then grabs an overhand wristlock. He goes into the hammerlock.

I cannot stress how important it is to be honest with yourself. I’ve seen the wrestler who has matches that are terrible, but when he watches himself on tape he can do nothing but sing his own praises. Chances are, you are not as good as you think. Don’t feel bad — I wasn’t, either. It’s nice to feel good about what you do, but understand that wrestling is a constant learning process, and the wrestler who stops learning should stop wrestling and move onto life’s next challenge.

When watching others on video, I also watched each match three times. The first time was for the story, the second time to evaluate, and the third time to watch, pause, and figure out different ways to get from A to B: I also think of ways I can incorporate some of the holds, moves, and spots into my own work.

I can’t tell you who to watch because I don’t know you or your look, style, or abilities. I can tell you who I watched:

  • William Regal (mostly his stuff as “Lord” Steven Regal in WCW): Aggressive heat and mat work.
  • Rick Steamboat: Selling that draws fans’ sympathy and staying alive during the heat.
  • Bobby Eaton: Subtleties of believable selling,
  • Brian Pillman: Looking believable on offense while working with a larger opponent.
  • Curt Hennig: Working as a strong heel who didn’t look like he had to cheat.
  • Barry Windham: Babyface comeback fire that doesn’t look cheesy.
  • The Midnight Express: Tag team wrestling.
  • Stan Hansen, “Outlaw” Ron Bass, UFC fighters, and a host of other guys for promos.

RELATED NOTE: A few notable wrestlers, most recently Mike Rotunda, have told me that they watched Paul Orndorff’s stuff when they first turned heel.

The Roddy Piper vs. Bret Hart Intercontinental Title match at Wrestlemania VII is my favorite match to watch. I loved the story. It began with a pre-taped promo, with Piper not taking Bret seriously because he still sees Bret as the little kid he knew years ago and Bret not very happy about Piper’s jokes. The match was the classic babyface-versus-babyface match, with each man becoming increasingly aggressive as the match progressed. Each man pulled a fast one on the other, angering his opponent. In the end, a ref bump gave Piper the chance to take the low road: he was going to hit Hart with the timekeeper’s bell. He showed internal conflict, the angel on one shoulder telling him, “Don’t do it” (as were the thousands of fans) and the self-serving devil on the other. He eventually chose to take the high road, tossed the bell aside, and seconds later had Hart in his finishing move, the sleeper hold. Hart kicked himself off the buckles and ended up pinning Piper while still caught in the sleeper. After the match, Piper snagged the belt from the referee and, after several heart-stopping seconds where I still sometimes think Piper will turn heel no matters how many times I watch it, he eventually helped Hart to his feet and fastened the belt around the new champion’s waist.

Another match I strongly recommend is Steven Regal vs. Marcus Bagwell from Clash of the Champions XXIII. I don’t have the DVD in my possession because a borrowing friend had little regard for the love I have for my wrestling video collection, so I can’t give a narrative. I can only tell you that I loved the match, Regal is the man, and you should check it out.

You will find that different wrestlers are good for you to study at different times in your career. Watch all the video you can — it will only make you better — but don’t limit yourself to just a few. If I was getting ready to wrestle the Harris Brothers in a tag match, I would watch the Midnight Express vs. the Road Warriors to see how two smaller wrestlers made themselves look like they had a chance of hanging with two monsters.

It’s great to watch and enjoy matches, even picking a few things out to use as your own, but don’t just look a the move or spot that you like: try to understand how, when, and why it was used.

Watch tapes frequently. Don’t let it cut into your gym or training time, but it’s a vital part of the learning process.

NEXT WEEK: CHAPTER 10: BOOKING 101

One Response to “Chapter 8: The Supporting Cast and Chapter 9: Watching Tapes By Matt Murphy”

  1. Josh Ray said

    I love reading this stuff. Mr. Murphy and I need to have another long chat about wrestling!

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